YouTube announced on Wednesday new policies banning supremacist content from the platform, including videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion.” But YouTube’s treatment of people victimized by its content creators over the past 24 hours proves that the website was unable ― or unwilling ― to enforce its terms of service in the first place.
Dangerous white supremacist content is rampant on YouTube, and the company’s announcement that it planned to remove thousands of yet-undisclosed videos to curb hate speech and extremism is a welcome one, if late. But the company has yet to show that it’s capable of enforcing such a policy in the long-term, and exemplified its inability mere hours prior.
On Tuesday evening, it released a statement saying it wouldn’t remove videos that have targeted Vox journalist Carlos Maza with racist, derogatory and homophobic speech, all of which appeared to be in clear violation of the hate and harassment policies YouTube already had.
"These monsters didn't come out of nowhere. They're here because YouTube baited them out of the dark side of the internet, and has kept feeding them year after year." - Vox journalist Carlos Maza
In videos seen by millions, prominent conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder describes Maza as a “lispy queer,” a “gay Mexican” and an “anchor baby,” among other hateful mockery. Maza said the videos prompted a yearslong harassment campaign against him online, including an incident where his phone number was made public and he received hundreds of menacing messages.
He opened up about the videos, and the mob harassment he sustained after each, on Twitter last week. In return, he became a lightning rod for more attacks on all platforms ― a shirt reading “Carlos Maza is a Fag,” for example, was being sold on 1776.shop, a far-right merchandise site with ties to the Proud Boys extremist gang (the shirt appears to have been since taken down).
YouTube ― which, with devastating irony, was simultaneously running an LGBTQ-friendly ad campaign in celebration of Pride Month― declared that the Crowder videos could stay. Though the company “found language that was clearly hurtful” to Maza, the “videos as posted don’t violate our policies,” the tweeted statement reads.
“Opinions can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site,” the company wrote.
On Wednesday, some YouTubers were reporting that they were being demonetized or banned under the new anti-supremacist policy.
Separately, YouTube said it was temporarily demonetizing Crowder “because a pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community.” But Maza and others noted that demonetizing the right-winger’s YouTube videos won’t stop the harassment, nor cut off Crowder’s revenue streams, which include merchandise and crowdfunding. Plus, YouTube clarified that Crowder had an easy path to remonetization, appearing to negate the punishment entirely.
Maza told HuffPost he considered YouTube’s response disappointing on several levels. For one, it meant YouTube wasn’t actually taking any steps to meaningfully combat hate or harassment or to protect LGBTQ communities, as it has repeatedly claimed over the years.
But the YouTube move also cast light on an underlying issue: There’s little incentive for the platform to follow its own rules, and there’s plenty of monetary incentive to let harassers like Crowder and violent extremists do what they do best ― after all, YouTube can sell ads around the content on his channel, which has 3.8 million subscribers.
“People like Steven Crowder only exist because YouTube’s platform is designed to reward them for highly emotional, low-cost content that keeps people engaged ― abuse and harassment are highly emotional, low-cost ways to make content,” Maza said. “These monsters didn’t come out of nowhere. They’re here because YouTube baited them out of the dark side of the internet, and has kept feeding them year after year.”
YouTube appears to be at least capable of considering context when enforcing its policies. In August, it banned Alex Jones, as well as the show he hosts, Infowars, after he and his guests spread dangerous conspiracy theories on the platform that also led to harassment and threats. Jones, who in the past characterized the 2012 massacre of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School as a hoax, repeatedly broke hate speech and harassment policies, representatives for Google, which owns YouTube, said at the time.
Asked Wednesday by HuffPost how Jones’ violations were different than Crowder’s content, those reps declined to comment.
Clearly, YouTube is at best inconsistent in enforcing any of its policies, let alone a sweeping ban of hateful supremacist content. Other platforms ― especially Facebook and Twitter ― have repeatedly shown their inability to curb white supremacy despite their policies. And if its behavior toward hate this week is any indication, YouTube will fail, too.
Its new policy is a “PR stunt,” deployed so the platform can pretend it’s working to put out its own dumpster fire, Maza said.
It’s “meant to distract reporters and advertisers from the reality of what YouTube has come,” Maza said. “If it actually enforced the policies it already had on the books, these accounts would already be gone.”
This story has been updated with added detail on YouTube demonetizing Crowder.